On the day before Derek Jeter finally earned his eternal plaque, after an induction week like no other, Cooperstown was so deserted that one could roll a baseball down Main Street from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and fail to hit anyone.
“It’s not a great time here,” said Pete Rose, signing a few autographs alongside Reggie Jackson in the Safe at Home memorabilia shop he usually graces every year when the inductees come to town. “It’s been pretty dead the last few years.”
Usually, Main Street in this village of 1,852 is packed the day before the inductions and lines for breakfast at the Cooperstown Diner wind out onto the street like a cobra. But not Tuesday. There were tables to be had at 10 a.m., along with plenty of counter space.
“We’re just happy to have this kind of business, considering COVID and everything that’s happened,” said Cory Perrault, whose job was to serve everybody. He was helped only by a cook in the kitchen flipping pancakes and frying up eggs.
Across the street, the line for autograph signings was also pretty paltry by 1 p.m. By 5 p.m the shop closed and the crowds were no better.
Rose, of course, is still on the outside of the Hall looking in. Despite holding the all-time record with 4,256 hits, he’s been suspended from Major League Baseball and the Hall of Fame since 1989, when he was caught betting on games while managing the Cincinnati Reds.
Rose won’t stick around for Wednesday’s ceremony and speeches, when former players Jeter, Larry Walker, and Ted Simmons, plus labor leader Marvin Miller are finally being inducted on the stage behind the nearby Clark Sports Center. Don Fehr, who succeeded Miller as executive director of the MLB Players Association, will accept the honor for his late mentor.
The quartet was elected in late 2019 and early 2020 before the coronavirus hit, changing the world for everyone. Last year’s ceremonies were canceled, as well as this year’s usual carnival during the last weekend of July.
The Class of 2020 had to wait for 15 months to be inducted, their spaces in the plaque gallery still left vacant. There was no Class of 2021. The Baseball Writers’ Association of America didn’t elect anyone off its ballot, and two Veterans Committee votes were postponed for later this year.
By the time vaccinations became more widespread and New York State health and safety protocols changed, it was too late to resurrect the July 25 ceremony.
The Otesaga Resort Hotel, which hosts all the returning Hall of Famers, had booked weddings through the fall, and these were the only available dates. Thus, the rare mid-week, September induction.
There’s a 60% chance of rain for Wednesday afternoon, which would be a fitting end to the entire production.
“It’s been postponed once already, so I’m hoping that it happens,” Jeter, the 14-time All-Star New York Yankees shortstop and now president of the Miami Marlins, said during a video call. “There have been so many things going on in the world during the last year, I really haven’t thought about it much, and when it was canceled your mind goes other places. Now I’m getting excited about it again. It’s been a long time coming.”
Labor Day Weekend is usually when a thriving summer season in upstate New York winds down. Historic Doubleday Field, down the street from the museum, is still in the midst of a $5.8 million renovation.
Shutdown orders last year issued in New York State relegated restaurants to take out food only. The numerous baseball memorabilia shops were closed. But indoor seating is back again, and masks are optional for patrons, just as they will be for those who attend the induction ceremony, which is free of charge. All the business are open again, but they aren’t experiencing much traffic.
A sign on a local ice cream shop called The Brain Freeze said it’s for sale. Asking price: $39,995.
Business could certainly be better, said Tony Colao, who was helping manage Safe at Home during the Rose signing.
“You see there’s not much of crowd here,” he said. “Hopefully [Wednesday] the busses will come in and bring us lots and lots of people. You know, it’s a little bit sad.”
In 2019, 55,000 flocked to Cooperstown for the induction of another Yankees legend, Mariano Rivera. Jeter was widely expected to draw even more fans. Ten Hall of Famers have died since then, including Hank Aaron, Tommy Lasorda and Don Sutton just this year alone. Thirty-one of the Hall of Famers are expected to attend Wednesday, although a vaccinated Johnny Bench was a late cancel because he contracted COVID.
But thus far the big crowds haven’t materialized, and officials at the Hall said they couldn’t make a crowd prediction.
“The ripple effects of this are everywhere, but there are things happening on Main Street,” said former Mayor Jeff Katz, who retired in 2018 but still remains active in town. “We’ve braved this all pretty well, but this is the time of year when businesses start closing for the winter anyway.”
The Opera season, a mainstay of the summer, was canceled last year. So, too, were the May-to-October youth baseball tournaments held at Dream Park. Both reopened for shorter two-month periods this year.
That meant fewer empty hotels rooms, and so on, right down to the beer sold at the local breweries. The town has already lost more than $1 million in tax revenue.
Otsego County, which includes Cooperstown, reported a drop of $5.8 million overall in tax revenue, $2 million alone in unpaid property taxes that was offset in part by federal stimulus money.
Cutbacks in Cooperstown mean services like street paving, sidewalk repair and buildings upgrades had to be put on hold.
“This whole region lives off Coopertown’s renown to bring people in,” Katz said. “The town is an incredible economic engine. Ultimately, you’re talking about millions and millions of dollars in lost revenue.”
The Hall, which is a non-profit founded and run by the family of Chairwoman Jane Forbes Clark, will survive.
According to a 2019 federal tax filing, the Hall had $21.9 million in gross receipts and $52.8 million in assets, both declining figures over previous years. Statistics provided by the Hall show that 275,000 visitors entered the museum in 2019, with 90% of them visiting during the summer months.
Last year, when the Hall was closed from March 15 to June 25 because of COVID restrictions and induction weekend was canceled, attendance dipped to 51,371, a Hall spokesman confirmed. But its 2020 tax filing was not yet available and though the spokesman confirmed that revenue was way down, no specific figures were provided.
The renovation of Doubleday Field continues, last year commemorating its 100th anniversary since play began there in 1920 on what was then a cow pasture.
Katz was on a committee that raised $5 million of the projected $5.8 million to pay for the renovations, which include a restructured left-field bleachers, since torn down but left for several years without any completion.
Doubleday is a Cooperstown entity and is not officially connected with the Hall of Fame, though it still stages some events there. And more money must be raised for cost overruns, Katz said.
To be sure, he sees the town bouncing back.
“The sense of Cooperstown is very positive,” he said. “We’re very resilient. There’s a small-town community pride and cohesiveness that helps in a situation like this. It’s not like living in a bigger city, where there’s not that sense of togetherness that a small town has.
“August, though, looked like it was a little bit back to normal.”